This August 2016 photo shows Skilak Lake on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the wildlife refuge, published a notice of intent in the federal register on Oct. 2 to revisit a set of rules dealing with public use and hunting regulations that were finalized in May 2016. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Fish and Wildlife to reconsider Kenai refuge rules

The federal government is planning to revise some of the rules on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, including some controversial hunting restrictions.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a notice of intent in the federal register on Oct. 2 to start a process to reconsider rules finalized on the refuge in May 2016. The notice did not include any proposed revisions nor any definite timeline for the process.

The rules, which took more than a year to finalize after a lengthy public process, include provisions about plane, boat and motorized vehicle access, camping, firearm use and personal-use gathering of edible plants and shed antlers as well as a number of hunting provisions.

The hunting provisions have generated controversey because they contradict actions taken by the state Board of Game to liberalize hunting restrictions on brown and black bears on the refuge. In January 2017, the state filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the authority of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, which implemented similar rules around the same time, to enforce regulations that the state argued interfered with its power to regulate wildlife and hunting activities.

President Donald Trump signed a House Joint Resolution in April overturning the Fish and Wildlife Service rules in Alaska, but it didn’t include the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge-specific rules.

The notice of intent states that through the process, Fish and Wildlife will consider the parameters of Secretarial Order 3347, issued by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in March 2017, which is intended “to enhance conservation stewardship, increase outdoor recreation, and improve the management of game species and their habitat,” according to the order.

“The FWS will also identify ways to improve cooperation, consultation and communication with State of Alaska wildlife managers regarding recreational hunting and fishing,” the notice of intent states.

Fish and Wildlife isn’t accepting public comments on the upcoming process yet, but will follow the rulemaking process and include time for public comment once a proposed rule has been published on the federal register, according to the notice of intent.

The Department of the Interior did not return a request for comment.

The Alaska Department of Law is still pursuing its lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and other agencies in U.S. District Court. A number of parties, including the Defenders of Wildlife and Trustees for Alaska, filed to intervene. The Safari Club International, a hunter advocacy group, and the Alaska Professional Hunters Association both filed similar lawsuits over the same regulations, which have since been consolidated into one case.

After Trump signed the House Joint Resolution in April, Safari Club International and the Alaska Professional Hunters Association amended their complaints to remove the section about the national wildlife refuge rules. The Tucson-based conservation group the Center for Biological Diversity has since sued, challenging the authority of the Congressional Review Act’s provision to repeal legislation passed in the last few months of a previous presidential administration. The Safari Club, the National Rifle Association and the state of Alaska successfully filed to be intervenors in that case as well.

Cori Mills, a spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Law, said the department is moving forward with the suit and is gathering information for an opening brief.

“We’re still in the process of putting together an opening brief and I believe that’s due in January,” she said.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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